I had spoken with Amanda the previous night before dinner (here’s the shot of last night’s paella for those who missed it) and had another, rousing, spirited conversation with her. One of the reasons I came here was to think about our relationship (amongst other things), maintain some distance from her (for both her and my sake) and think about what we had mistakenly dove into a year before (not the fact that we got together, but how we proceeded with reckless abandon). But damn, I just loved sitting at the Casa Barbadello overlooking the pretty little valley, and kibitzing with that woman. After we hung up, I realized another thing she has shown me- how to start loving myself again. It started out by her gently commenting about my appearance.
I used to not care what I looked like, the clothes I wore, etc. I wanted everyone to form their opinion of me, care for me, love me based on what was inside. Maybe that’s being self-absorbed. Maybe this is the bane of a hopeless romantic. Maybe it’s what it takes to be insightful about yourself, and human nature. Fuck I don’t know.
For the most part (and maybe even the whole part) how well can anyone really know themselves? And, so how in the hell can anyone else really know what’s inside us? How well can we ever really know each other? And why in the hell do I keep on bringing up these existential questions?
For me, this idea that external appearance was superficial and that all that mattered was inside probably stems back to when I was young, another defense mechanism to keep me from getting hurt. There was a time that I thought of myself as being pretty worthless (I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one). To keep my balance, the voice in the back of my head told me “Hey, it’s OK. They don’t really know you. Once they do, then they’ll see, they’ll understand, they’ll come to love you”.
Unfortunately they needed to learn some of these things about me before they got close. It’s kind of a Catch-22. Speaking of Catch-22 (the novel) like Yossarian, I’m here partly to regain control of my own life.
And so, when you don’t care about yourself, you demonstrate this to the world by, well, not taking care of yourself both externally and internally. You write off your appearance, what you wear, what you look like. Maybe you forego going to the dentist and doctor for regular checkups and cleanings. You really don’t care how you treat yourself. Because, well, you don’t give a fuck about yourself.
And let’s face it, your external appearance is the first barrier of someone getting to know you, the first thing thats going to signal to another whether or not you want to communicate, interact with them. So if no one is going to bother to try, you’re protected, and you can’t get hurt. Mission accomplished. Over the last few years of my marriage, I learned not to care much about myself.
We all live inside our heads, and how well does anyone ever really know us? Maybe what love is (or even life for that matter), is spending a lifetime really trying to give, trying to communicate, trying to hand over that ephemeral piece of your heart, your very being to others. And if you’re lucky, to hand over all of your heart to the one person you find that makes your heart flutter, and a smile creep over your face when you see them, knowing that they care for you.
From what Ive seen, it’s probably the best part of life. Well, maybe behind sex and chocolate. And when I think about it, the stubborn insistence that people judge me, or like me, or love me due to what I knew was inside was all just a smoke screen to keep me from getting hurt.
Before I took this journey, with the help of two people who’ve shown me my worth, who know me better than anyone, I’d began to see myself as a different person, and began to invest my external self with the same worth I know is inside me (the same worth that is in each and every one of you, by the way). And it feels good, and right.
Sometimes it’s just hard to remove oneself from the walls one builds around oneself (that our society and culture have a strong hand helping with), to see the beautiful creature that’s just waiting to be shown to the rest of the world. Do me a favor. Don’t wait any longer.
I woke up at Casa Barbadello at 5:30. After I came out of the bathroom from brushing my teeth, everyone in the room was up and packing for their walk. At this point, packing and getting out of the auberge was pretty much automatic, which helps when it comes to not leaving stuff behind. I guess the chaotic bag of fuck that I was when I first stepped foot on the camino has been somewhat refined, although I still have some steps to take.
I threw the last few things I had yet to pack into my bag and headed out just behind a couple from New Zealand I had met briefly. As we walked in the dark, the road split at a house. They immediately took the path to the right. After a little investigation, I saw the way-marker on the path to the left and took it. I yelled softly to let them know but they were already too far away.
The path was quiet, flat, and dark, and it ran through a light forest of deciduous trees. The wind whispered softly, my footsteps forming the only sounds. It was tranquil, peaceful. I imagined my friends going about their daily lives as I tripped lightly down this centuries old path, half a world away. Would I be changed upon my return? What about my epiphany? I hadn’t even received notification via text yet, although maybe I’d gotten an email- I haven’t been checking it regularly.
Finally the path emerged into a corn field, than hit a highway. There i saw the father and his son that I had met briefly the night before in my room checking out their GPS. I must say, near the beginning of the journey, I had referred to my gps twice. But I think that due to my newfound independence and reliance on myself, I had more or less chosen not to consider it anymore.
I simply had chosen to go with my instincts (I told a story early on about looking at maps vs. using instinct). Intellect is awesome, but I think it can sometimes overshadow the other side- the crazy, emotional, burning part of each of us. As Springsteen wrote “…mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun. But mama…that’s where the fun is”. We just might be denying ourselves a part of life, and ourselves, that’s worth checking out…
I had walked through a small town and then entered into farmland again when I spotted a familiar gait, and a water bottle dangling from a right hand. When I got close enough I blurted out a cheery greeting that had to do with the stench of the cowshit we had just passed (the camino provides!). Aviva turned her head and smiled.
We walked together for awhile under light clouds and the dawning of the day until we came to a small town where we sat down at a little place outside for breakfast. It was still cloudy and cool as we downed our cafe con leche. Aviva hadn’t been able to sleep so she had left Portomarin at 430 which is why she had caught up to me, that and my slower pace due to my friggin ankle. The father and son I had met earlier joined us at our table.
Aviva and I left together and after a few kilometers we hit a milepost- the 100 k marker. We stopped for a few minutes, as other pilgrims were there and we all switched phones, taking pictures of each other. To diverge from the path (so to speak) for a moment- a pilgrim is a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically this is a physical journey (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system. “In Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude”.
Well, I don’t really adhere to a particular religion, but like many I consider myself spiritual, which means either you’re too much of a chicken-shit to be an atheist or agnostic, but you still believe the world (and by extension your life) has some sense to it, and you prefer to see the world as having some magic and grace. I guess it’s simply about attitude, and how we were taught to perceive the universe. To quote Einstein again (for those who missed the earlier post, or just need to be reminded): “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is”.
And before you go laughing at my naïveté, let me say that I think what he was getting at was that consciousness and existence itself are miracles (as a scientist, he appreciated the odds of us humans coming into being. (Hmm… interesting… human+being), and so every moment of our lives should be considered a miracle, even if we don’t appreciate it, or are able to understand it in that light. Just the fact that human beings came into existence much less have intelligence, consciousness, half a brain (although sometimes I question that- just look at a certain presidential contender), is a miracle.
Again, the quote is about attitude, and how we perceive the world. Previously I wrote that we had a choice. I’m not sure if we do, but we can make the choice to try and change our minds to perceive the world differently through things like meditation, going on a spiritual quest that pushes the mind and/or body out past the normal confines of ones existence, or in my case, drinking wine;).
I think my attitude has changed while being out here, and I certainly can lay claim to being somewhat in a state of wretchedness when the spirits pushed me to the camino. And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m still confounded as to how the universe conspired to embed this walk in my soul, making it impossible for me to ignore it. I swear the ghost of Einstein had something to do with it.
Aviva and i continued to walk together, we walked through a town- Ferreiros. It was still early, nothing much was going on. We traveled across a bridge and large river. Then the camino paralleled an asphalt road for awhile. Off in the distance I could see Portomarin, where Aviva would rest for the evening.
I had to move on even with my throbbing ankle, if I was to make my flight back to LA in a few days. It’s kind of strange to think of getting on a plane and heading back to Los Angeles after being out here with nothing but the soles of my shoes between myself and the ground.
The path diverged from the road and went through a forest, then became a deep little crevasse, bordered by stacked stone walls for about a half kilometer. I could see that this was probably a wash when it rained- the path itself was rutted, stone filled, about a 30 degree grade downhill. I stood at the top as Aviva went ahead, knowing this would wreak havoc with my ankle. And it did. Aviva politely waited for me, or maybe she sensed that I was hurting, due to the fact I had been bitching about it and was groaning now and then.
After emerging from this chasm of pain and torture that was like the path leading to the the Ploutonion at Hierapolis, it was a short walk to a long bridge over the “Embalse de Belesar”, a reservoir that harbored the town of Portomarin. As I reached the far end of the bridge, I saw another sight that thrilled me and my ankle to no end- about a hundred steep steps to climb into town. I looked at the 100 or so steps and winced, knowing my ankle wouldn’t be happy. It wasn’t. In fact it was pissed off. At the top of the stairs, the camino went left but the auberges were right, so I left Aviva probably for the last time.
I walked through the town looking for an ATM. There was an outdoor farmers market going on. I like the feeling of walking through these, peeking into the daily lives of those in a different culture. They are simply going through the experiences of every day, while I was…well…walking across Spain with a screwed up ankle carrying everything I needed on my back. I found a quiet cafe and sat down to rest my ankle and check out Brierley, and where I might end up for the day, although these days I was kind of playing it by ear.
Sitting by myself once again, I felt a certain sense of freedom. Freedom can be a scary thing. Freedom as in “…nothing left to lose…” (Kristofferson). Freedom as in having to take full responsibility. The freedom that provokes a “dizzied anxiety”, a challenge, the ultimate test of human failure and success” (Nietzsche). And who wants that? It’s easier to sit down and binge watch “Game of Thrones”. And by the way, when have you seen Kris Kristofferson and Fred Nietzsche quoted together in the same paragraph?.
Freedom is being brave enough to let others be what they truly are, and do what they must do, while you do the same. It takes fearlessness. And to be fearless you must cast away doubt. Doubt is just another defense mechanism. But it stops us from acting. Doubt is a pause between kisses. It’s a bullet in the chamber of a .45 in a game of Russian Roulette. Doubt stops us from waking up in the middle of the night and looking over and seeing a beautiful silhouette glowing in the moonlight and whispering “thank you”. Doubt stops us from feeling joy, pain, laughter, tears. And from living.
Accepting to be truly free does present a certain amount of uncertainty. I know uncertainty well, it’s what contributed to the pit in my stomach every morning for the year prior to walking the camino. Someone once said: “Madness is the result not of uncertainty, but of certainty “ Think Marlon Brando, at the end of Apocalypse Now.
One last thing about freedom. When someone loves you freely it gives you a better chance of being loved freely in return. True freedom to allow others to be what they are, and do what they do. And us to do the same. Try and give the best of yourself. Love, encouragement, devotion, and hope that the other gives all their best as well. I’ve learned that you have to do your best to throw away your insecurities (that’s a whole other thing that I think fucks up a lot of us and takes a lot to rid ourselves of) and not be afraid of losing someone else’s’ love by expressing your freedom. If they truly love you, and have dealt with the emotional issues that life has hoisted on them (as you hopefully have), then both of you can be free, and live and grow together. Maybe this is what defines a mature relationship. But then again, as I’ve stated before, what the fuck do I know?
“And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. and we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh” -Fred Neitzche
I walked out of Portomarin following a few pilgrims who seemed to know where they were going. I ambled through a forest for awhile, then the path flattened out and I was into fields of hay, some with hay bails, some mowed. I reasoned that after leaving Aviva, I would no longer run across any of my recent traveling companions, as I was having to walk longer and further to make my flight.
After a little while, I left the wheat fields and was traveling through the edge of another forest, a road to my left. After a few kilometers, the camino moved into open fields. There were still clouds out so it remained cool. I was pretty much traveling alone. A little cross reminded me of the religious significance of this pilgrimage for some, although mostly for, it seems, some of the older pilgrims I had met.
After awhile, the camino moved into small fields bordered by trees and it got windy. I had walked 35 k and so I stopped in Ventas de Naron. There were 2 auberges, both with a bar/restaurants and tables and chairs outside and that was pretty much it. I checked into the one place where a bunch of cyclists were outside having lunch. By the time I was settled, I went outside to find the place empty.
So I wandered over to the one other joint in town, got a cafe con leche, and sat down to write. After a little while, who should come and sit down but my friend Michael the polish dude/writer/etc. His wife Miciaj eventually joined us, we talked some and they gave me some recommendations of where to go on the last few days of my journey. and then they went inside, as they were staying at the auberge I was writing at.
I worked a little more and glanced over my shoulder and saw a face I thought I may have seen in passing a few times on the camino. As he walked up to me I realized I was wrong: it was actually Pascal, the laughing Belgian. it was such a joy, and a surprise to see him since it had been some time since our last running into each other. I so didn’t think I would ever see him again unless I made it over to Belgium.
I would usually see him as he plodded along, and I passed him. In addition to him walking slower than I, he had had a leg injury early on. But there he was. And he was smiling. And we started laughing. We had dinner together and talked about where we had been, the people we had walked with, and those we both knew (Cormac, the Portland girls et al), smiling and laughing at the sheer craziness of it all. It’s funny too, I truthfully felt that I was a different person at that moment than at the last time I had seen him. It was as if he was a constant moving through the universe, that in relation to him, I could notice changes in me.
I walked back to the auberge I was staying at and lie down on my cot. It was a cool night so I pulled up the wool blanket that been had provided me around my neck, and drifted off. It reminded me of that night at Amanda’s, a blanket wrapping us in the warmth of each other, gazing at the stars and the lights of the city, and me, uttering the words that slashed a gaping lacuna into the core of our life together.
Remember that bench at Starbucks from the first post? Well, we’re back there. Amanda and I sat there, out on the sidewalk away from the busy coffee shop. We talked about the things we used to discuss: mostly her kids, our failed marriages, a project we had been working on together. She was doing her usual: laughing, crying, screaming at life. But then for me, it wasn’t the same as it used to be.
When your talking to someone you were emotionally involved with, someone you loved, and they don’t love you anymore, there are places you don’t go, things that theres no point in talking about. Like a fallow field where nothing is growing. No reason to go inspect the crop, water the field. I wanted to jump in, be engaged, but what was the point? We got up, hugged, she going off to a lunch meeting, me to therapy.
Near the end of my session I got a text from Amanda asking if I could meet her for lunch. She was having a working lunch with Jillian, a friend who Amanda was doing some work for and who I had met on previous occasions. She texted that Jillian wanted some business advice. I wasn’t sure what that meant, what advice Jillian might be looking to wrest from me. She was a writer, steaming full speed ahead on a novel about sex addiction. She had completed several drafts after working intensely with a writing coach for awhile and it just seemed like a matter of time before she got published.
I texted back, agreeing to meet them. I liked Jillian and enjoyed her insightful, albeit unfiltered view of the world. She’s witty, intelligent, sometimes keenly aware of things. I also liked having a writer friend who was serious and really pushing herself to be successful. I had learned a lot from her. And of course I had loved Amanda but was ambivalent about seeing her again. I hurried out of my therapists, quickly stopping by to snag my favorite white linen shirt. It didn’t cross my mind that it was the shirt I was wearing when I first met Amanda.
I arrived at the restaurant and the host led me to their table and let me know they were both in the restroom. I felt good, imaging that the host and waiters wondered what I had going on- having lunch with two beautiful, intelligent women. In fact, the waiters knew Amanda- she had lived close by, frequenting the place with her ex, in laws, and kids.
I thought about the coincendence of them being in the restroom at the same time. I had texted them and let them know when I was 10 minutes away so they knew when I would be arriving. Maybe I was stereotyping what usually goes on in women’s restrooms. Maybe it was my ego, imagining they were discussing me.
You know, like when you’re double dating and the two women excuse themselves and go to the powder room. The woman who has the relationship with the man on the date coaches the other woman, asks her how she feels about the guy she’s been set up with, etc. But I don’t really know. No man has ever been allowed to peer behind the curtain. And for the most part, most men who know whats good for them wouldn’t really want to. Maybe they both just had to go. Shit happens.
After a moment or two, Jillian and Amanda returned to the table. We made small talk, and then Jillian launched into what, in retrospect, seemed to be the reason I was called up to meet them. She told Amanda and I how she thought we were meant for each other, that we were good together, etc. While she laid out her case, I had to assume that her and Amanda hadn’t spoken about the state of the union.
As far as I was concerned, It was over. Thats all I had heard from Amanda for the previous few weeks, and everything that had happened over the past month indicated that it was. I interjected here and there, trying to clue Jillian into this fact, waiting for Amanda to tell Jillian that what she was saying was nice, but that it was over. Jillian finished, we all sat, a little uncomfortable and finished our lunch. Fortunately wine was involved.
Jillian had to go. Amanda asked if I would like to go outside and sit at the tables out back in the sun before we parted ways. So we did. And we talked. I don’t remember exactly what was said. I do remember talking about ourselves, our past, or feelings. We were both evasive, not wanting to hurt each other. What would be the point? Then she asked me a question. It was vague, it seemed like she didn’t want to say too much, give too much away. Several times during the conversation I asked “what do you mean by that?” I couldn’t quite make sense of her questions.
Finally, she asked another question. Again, I wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at. After a long pause, a few words implanted themselves in my brain, coursed through my nerves, and passed through my lips. It was not an answer to her question (as far as I could tell since I didn’t really understand the question anyway) but a statement.
And just like my decision to walk the camino (which wasn’t really a decision, it just was), these words spilled from my lips: “If you’re asking me if I ever stopped loving you, the answer is no”.
She started to cry. I moved over and we embraced, holding on to each other for a long time, feeling like the same lost souls that had crashed into each other 10 months before. We talked about all we had been through (suffice it to say we’d been through much more than this blog has allowed for), she told me she had always loved me, and that maybe we could see each other again. And we discussed how we had gone about it wrong before, and that maybe we could fix those things, as long as we took things one day at a time.
I was elated as I walked her to her car. But if you know anything about the hero’s journey, you know that the hero doesn’t triumph at the plot point 2/3 of the way through the movie. I knew that I still had some dragons that needed to be fought, and some lessons to be learned. But at least now I knew that there was a beautiful light holding a lantern helping show me the way, as long as I could keep my eyes and heart open enough to see it.
“Mr. X has made some progress in beginning to understand that his wife had some part in the martial strife. In the past year, Mr. X has made significant progress in that he has mostly come to terms with the idea that his wife was emotionally abusive toward him during their marriage. This was a huge step forward in dealing with his depression and feelings of failure. His understanding and (near) acceptance has allowed him to limit self-blame, experience anger, and move towards healing. The single biggest improvement has been Mr X increased positive attitude and level of optimism about the future.” -psychiatric evaluation, May 2016
Random notes from the period covered by the above psych evaluation:
We were in it together I thought. At some point I realized we weren’t. Its so sad, the loss of that.
Called myself a writer for first time.
Janice probably tries to get what she thinks she needs by using what she has learned from her past, and her upbringing. I don’t blame her.
Concerned that wife will turn daughter against me more, as money issues get challenged.
How does being a twin fuck me up?
Feel like I’m taking up more space. Flashes of how I used to be. In the moment. spontaneous.
Hannah. Ill always be there for her. I love her.
Being busy is the opiate of the masses.
Cried when I wrote about looking into her eyes.
Not sleeping. Long runs. I think I’m in love with Amanda. But thats not gonna last. Things are happening for a reason. Abandonment at root. Wife stole my opportunity to care for another soul. Sad, because I was instrumental in giving life to that soul.
I feel therapy is helping. Am already introspective. Thoroughly convinced that neuropathways have changed, that some emotions are unwarranted reactions to stuff from the past. Have the feeling of I can do it, I can change things.
I have to stop looking at myself as a victim before I can take responsibility for my life again.
When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained
But darlin’ when I hold you
Don’t you know I feel the same
Nothin’ lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it’s hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain
And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain,
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We still can find a way
‘Cause nothin’ lasts forever
Even cold November rain